Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Elizabeth Groginsky, an education executive for the District of Columbia, was appointed Wednesday to be New Mexico’s first Cabinet secretary for early childhood education – a critical job as the state ramps up spending on prekindergarten and other programs to prepare youngsters for school.
Groginsky will be leaving her job as the assistant superintendent of early learning in Washington, D.C., where she has helped oversee a network of early childhood services.
She also has worked in Colorado as a university researcher and as a family-services coordinator for Head Start – experience that gave her a firsthand look, she said, at the power of early childhood programs.
“The research is clear,” Groginsky told a news conference. “The first five years of a child’s life set a foundation for their future development, health and educational and academic outcomes.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the appointment Wednesday afternoon at the Roundhouse. The governor said that as a former Cabinet secretary herself, she understands the difficulty of establishing and running a new state department.
“It’s really tough, rough work,” Lujan Grisham said, “and it requires someone with the kind of 20-year experience that Elizabeth has.”
Groginsky’s appointment requires confirmation by the state Senate, although she can begin work before that.
The job will put her at the center of one of New Mexico’s top priorities.
State lawmakers this year approved creation of the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department as part of an effort to better coordinate New Mexico’s network of pre-K programs, home visits to new parents and similar services.
Legislative analysts earlier this year said the new department head will take over a system that has resulted in an over-saturation of early childhood services in some areas and not enough in others. In some cases, analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee say, state agencies compete for kids, and their work may unintentionally supplant federally funded programs.
Groginsky said Wednesday that she has experience navigating different funding streams to maximize services for families.
Her appointment comes amid growing consensus inside the Capitol that better preparing children for school and adults for parenthood are keys to breaking the cycle of poverty in one of the poorest states in the nation.
Over a recent seven-year period, New Mexico doubled its annual spending on early childhood programs – to about $306 million last fiscal year.
Future increases are expected, too. Some lawmakers have pushed in recent years for a constitutional amendment that would tap more heavily into the state’s largest permanent fund to expand early childhood education and similar services.
The Lujan Grisham administration has also broached the idea of an entirely new endowment fund for early childhood programs.
Sen. Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill creating the new department, said Wednesday that Groginsky appears to have the “heart and energy” to handle the job.
“She needs to be able to build the airplane as she flies the airplane,” he said. “I believe she’s well equipped to do that.”
In Wednesday’s news conference, Groginsky and Lujan Grisham said an early priority will be building a better system for data collection and analysis. Meaningful data, they said, will help guide coordination, promote innovation and ensure services are reaching the people who need them.
Groginsky has a background in research and data systems. She was the first executive director of the national Early Childhood Data Collaborative.
Educational outcomes analyzed by LFC analysts suggest that New Mexico’s school system succeeds in producing about a year’s worth of academic growth for students each year. But many children start school several years behind, so they actually need even faster progress to reach proficiency.
“Too many of these students never catch up,” Lujan Grisham said, “and we’re not going to let that happen anymore in New Mexico.”
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